with leading men:

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsBeing Henry David, Cal Armistead (304 pages) – Seventeen-year-old “Hank” has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything – who he is, where he came from, why he’s running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or “Hank”-and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of, Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.

First lines: “The last thing I remember is now. Now, coming at me with heart-pounding fists. My eyes shoot open, and there is too much. Of everything. Blurred figures, moving. White lights. Muffled waves of sound. Voices. Music. Chaos.”

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsPeriod 8, Chris Crutcher (276 pages) – Paul “the Bomb” Baum tells the truth. No matter what. It was something he learned at Sunday School. But telling the truth can cause problems, and not minor ones. And as Paulie discovers, finding the truth can be even more problematic. Period 8 is supposed to be that one period in high school where the truth can shine, a safe haven. Only what Paulie and Hannah (his ex-girlfriend, unfortunately) and his other classmates don’t know is that the ultimate bully, the ultimate liar, is in their midst.

First lines: “Near midnight Paulie Bomb pulls his VW Beetle onto the shoulder of Ridgeview Drive and kills the engine. He’s just finished his shift at The Rocket Bakery and Coffee House, where Hannah kept him company for the last hour. He releases the seat back a couple of inches and breathes deep, staring over the blanket of city lights below.”

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe Freedom Merchants, Sherryl Jordan (426 pages) – In 1615, corsair pirates from the Barbary Coast prowl the coasts of England and Ireland, attacking ships and raiding villages for slaves to sell to masters in the Mediterranean. When 13-year-old Liam’s brother is captured, Liam is desperate to get him back and travels with a small band of monks to the heart of the pirate world, into the turmoil of religious persecution, and the horrors of slavery.

First lines: “Liam was the first to hear the bell. He was sitting huddled by the fire, his fair head bent over the wooden fox he was carving. Behind him, firelight and shadows wrestled together on the rough door, and over his head smoke swirled about the high, thatched roof.”

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsDarius & Twig, Walter Dean Myers (201 pages) – Darius is a supersmart writer, Twig is an outstanding middle-distance runner. Best friends. They need to navigate their Harlem world: the gangs, the bullies, an absent dad, an abusive uncle, the sleazy side of sports, the uncertainty of an artist’s prospects. And they need to figure out how to grow up together, but apart.

First lines: “High above the city, above the black tar rooftops, the dark brick chimneys spewing angry wisps of burnt fuel, there is a black speck making circles against the gray patchwork of Harlem sky. From the park below it looks like a small bird. No, it doesn’t look like a small bird but what else could it be?”

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsDr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, Evan Roskos (310 pages) – James Whitman hugs trees and tries to save animals. He talks to an imaginary pigeon therapist named Dr. Bird. He often hates himself, but loves to recite Walt Whitman because it can be recited with exclamation points! His parents believe that life is better since they kicked his sister, Jorie, out of the house but James feels her absence deeply. How can James continue to wake up with a celebratory YAWP like his namesake poet-hero? James tries to connect the dots around his sister’s mysterious expulsion, but his mission falters as he discovers that some of her secrets are not that different from his own. Secrets that not even Dr. Bird can help with. It’s going to take some radical intervention for James to help his sister and truly celebrate himself.

First lines: “I yawp most mornings to irritate my father, the Brute. “Yawp! Yawp!” It moves him out of the bathroom faster. He responds with the gruff “All right.” He dislikes things that seem fun.”